Till the thin lady sings…

One of my favorite opera singers is the mezzo-soprano Cecilia Bartoli. I discovered her work in college and I used to take naps to her CD, A Portrait, on a daily basis.

I loved her voice, her look, her masses of dark curls, her effortless coloratura whether singing Handel or Mozart. I am a mezzo too and I would sing along, no doubt getting dirty looks from all the people I passed in my car.

Here is a video of her singing Caro Mio Ben to give you just a taste of her sublimity.

The top comment on this video:

before i heard her sing i thought she was a plain chunky Italian chick
now when i look at her i see the most perfect example of femininity on earth [sic]

And thus we reach the topic of this post. Opera, one of the few performance arts where you ought to be judged for your recitative and not your waist size, has succumbed to popular pressure.

I was listening to Cecilia’s new album, Sospiri (which means “sighs” in Italian), released in 2010. I squinted at the tiny album cover in the corner of my screen and then blew it up to full size.

Notice any difference between that picture and this, also taken in 2010?

The album cover is heavily Photoshopped, to make her appear thinner. Now this could have been a change Ms. Bartoli herself requested. Who doesn’t want to look as beautiful as possible in their promotional photos?

But it has become so common now it doesn’t even raise any eyebrows or notice. I was sure I was not the only one who saw this, but I searched Google in vain for any reference to the classical community being annoyed at one of their grande dames being visually liposuctioned for the masses.

Never mind that I loved Cecilia as she was (and truly is). Curvy and hippy and womanly and lush. Such photographs do a disservice to her as an artist. Yet, Cecilia Bartoli is currently #7 on  Hottest Female Classical Musicians. Is that for who she really is and how she really looks or how she is portrayed in images for her recordings, which sell quite well? And what does “hot” have to do with opera anyhow?

Weight and opera have always had an uneasy partnership. Beauty does sell tickets. Modern opera requires their leads to be both svelte and vocally acrobatic. More than one diva has been fired due to weight issues. Opera stars must be sexy and apparently that also equals skinny.

When Maria Callas lost all her weight, many people believe she lost the vocal quality that made her so memorable. Renee Fleming, another famous soprano, said of Callas’ transformation: “It’s not the weight loss per se… But if one uses the weight for support, and then it’s suddenly gone and one doesn’t develop another musculature for support, it can be very hard on the voice. And you can’t estimate the toll that emotional turmoil will take as well.”

Conversely, many believe that Callas didn’t become the mega-star that she was -until- she lost all the weight, even though her voice changed.

I am more sensitive to this because opera is one of the few places you can still find curvy and buxom beauties. They open their mouth and the heavens open.

Let it be about the music, not the number on the scale.

Something to consider:

If you had a voice of fire, would you trade it for beauty?

6 Comments

  1. Rachel Stanley
    Dec 7, 2012

    Hmmm. I was in singing classes with a friend from high school who is what I would term an “uber soprano.” She sings like a bird :). Now, she’s a little on the heavy side, but I never and would never think that that detracted form her beauty one bit. It’s kind of sad how socitey today thinks that beauty has to be reflected on the outside. If I could hit the notes my friend does, though, I would TRY not to care about what I looked like ;)

  2. moonduster
    Dec 7, 2012

    I agree that I would prefer the album covers NOT to be photoshopped. I think it is a mistake to continue to portray anyone with talent as someone who has to be thin. We are doing a disservice to our daughters. Would I trade a heavenly voice for a thin body? Tough question as I worked really hard and lost over 145 pounds to get to a healthy weight. I think I would definitely trade a beautiful voice for a HEALTHY body though.

  3. Sophie Moss
    Dec 10, 2012

    Interesting question. To which I will post another… If you had a voice of fire, would you trade it for love?

    Couldn’t help thinking of The Little Mermaid. :)

  4. Meg McNulty
    Dec 11, 2012

    I thought of the little mermaid too! Interesting that about Maria Callas – I never thought of that. Talent does outweigh looks though – and I think there’s an increasing appetite for more variety in appearance!

  5. Anna Meade
    Dec 11, 2012

    That’s not a fair question, Sophie, to a slave of beauty! I’d probably choose love, but would be hard-pressed. I love the Little Mermaid. Thanks for bringing up that angle.

  6. Mike
    Dec 15, 2012

    Ahh, but I already have both beauty and a voice of fire… or at the very least I have regular features and a voice of freshly baked bread.

    (you can judge the voice on my blog iffin you don’t believe me)

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